THE Sunday Times this weekend had a fascinating extra supplement, as if it needed any more.
Its annual 100 Best Small Companies To Work For was inspiring.
Here were organisations which, according to surveys of their own staffs, engaged in meaningful consultation with workers, promoted their well-being, demonstrated a willingness to give back to the communities they served, and cared about personal development.
A lot were run by self-confessed weird and eccentric entrepreneurs; some didn’t even judge their performance by how much money they made.
But their satisfaction ratings for employees went up to a staggering 96%.
So what could possibly be wrong with all that? Well, nothing as it happens.
Except there was something else revealed by the list of 100 best performers out of the 571 which put themselves up for scrutiny.
That something probably says more about the state of the British economy, and its prospects for the future, than any surveys or dry Government statistics.
Practically none of the companies made anything.
The winner offered what it called IT Solutions. Next came a charity. Then there was a marketing consultancy.
And so on: Professional services, public relations, property management, software development, human resources and management consultancy were the names of the games featuring in the top twenty.
A contractor sneaked in at 21 and a retirement home construction company at 25, but largely the roll-call read like a description of all the jobs described by Douglas Adams in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as the sort of professions pursued by occupants of the first ship sent into space from a doomed planet before its destruction by an intergalactic goat.
The idea was, of course, that no such goat existed and it was a ruse to get rid of non-productive people. They ended up colonising Earth.
Well, I wouldn’t advocate going quite that far. But it must be of huge concern that so few primary industries (miners or growers), secondary (manufacturers) or even tertiary (retailers) made the grade.
That means either such firms don’t exist, or that they are run by bad employers who care not a jot for the people who work for them.
To extend the system used in my children’s geography classes, the companies who dominated the Sunday Times list could be described as quaternary (marketing, PR and Training) or even quintenary, if there is such a word, for consultants.
As a consultant, I don’t mind admitting that this is scary, and explains why this country’s economy is in such a rut and is taking so long to recover from recession.